Well, it was the unofficial Opening Day, anyway, for those who don’t count the 1–game showstopper on Sunday, incomprehensibly staged in Boston after the Yanks won the World Series last year. Yes, yes, we know. The schedule is arranged beforehand. Still, Yankee fans will remember that the Opening Day 2005 rematch between the Yankees and Red Sox was also held in Boston, following Boston’s first championship in 86 years on the heels of the Yankees’ collapse in the 2004 ALCS after a highly-charged season marked by on-field hostilities between these 100+-year rivals. But at least, that year, the whole country — that is, Baseball Nation — wasn’t held hostage to a single game in the allegedly “liberal elite” northeast, paradoxically home to these 2 mega-corporations (by baseball standards) which are so often accused of monopolizing not just the national broadcast agenda but the game itself, while handing out millions to front offices across “the real America,” where the fruits of revenue sharing are too often treated like entitlements and frittered on anything except the very players that would draw the kind of crowds that support winning teams while creating profits. On the political ambiguities of baseball, enough said, for the moment.
Opening Day April 5, 2010: Some Highlights
Garrett Jones put the Allegheny River on the baseball map yesterday! The Pirates picked up right where I saw them leave the Dodgers flailing near the end of last season: Bucco Paradise: PNC Park. (Dodgers 5 @ Pirates 11) Nice that David Wright could reclaim CitiField after a tough year, with a HR on a new opening day. (Marlins 1 (@ Mets 7) Tigers batted .308, largely off Greinke’s relievers, and Detroit’s bullpen shut down the Royals for 4 innings after Verlander’s brief outing at Kauffman Stadium, where I have not been, yet. (Tigers 8 @ Royals 4)
Buehrle! I just listened to yesterday’s Right Sox host the Indians. 7 shutout innings for the win. That was some play in the 5th, running into foul territory for a ball that had struck his ankle/shin, then flipping between his legs to Konerko, who caught it barehanded. I am glad he started strong after struggling following the perfect game last year. (I attended the disappointing match-up with Sabathia at The Cell shortly after that.) It was also refreshing to see the team score in early innings with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. Alex Rios seemed sharp after last year’s talk of “lackadaisicality” in his approach. (Indians 0 @ Right Sox 7)
Did John Sterling really say Neil Diamond was wearing a Boston hat? I get why he showed up to sing at Fenway, but did he have to wear the hat?
At 2-outs in a scoreless tie at the bottom of the 15th — yes, you read that right — A-Rod swacked his bat to beat the Red Sox with a huge HR.
That same Friday night, but in Chicago, simultaneously screening on another cable station was one of those recently popularized Classic Games, full-length history from the vault. Guess which one competed with the Yanks hosting the Red Sox last night? You know you’ve got it! The Aaron Boone game! ALCS Game 7, 2003. (Do you remember where you were when you heard – or, like most of us, SAW it happen?) [Good news on Boone’s recovery from potentially career-ending open heart surgery, by the way. On schedule to rejoin the Astros on their expanded 40-man roster in September, he is set to play Monday with AA Corpus Christi and then move to AAA Round Rock for their homestand in the last week of August.]
Following Boone’s heroics, the Yanks unceremoniously moved him along, because, tyhe story goes, his off-the-field activities were interfering with his baseball readiness. Sound familiar? OK, so Boone hurt his knee in a pickup basketball game. A-Rod’s got some considerably more distracting extra-curricular routines!
So, now that he had his Aaron Boone Moment, might the Yankees move him along in the off-season?
As Mark Gremse would say, “That’s Baseball.”
PS It’s not that I don’t recognize the truth of what John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman point out almost every night: the huge improvement in the Yankee record and standings since he returned from the DL. Then again, one could easily counter, why was he ON the DL? What caused that injury? What’s my problem with him? I just don’t think he plays clean. And I’m not even talking about steroids. Remember the “Toronto ‘HA’“? (See A-Rod’s explanation on video) He plays as if his Captain were Jason Varitek, not Derek Jeter. It may play at Fenway, but not in Peoria, and certainly not right down Broadway to 161st and River Avenue.
Petitte vs Wakefield
Plate umpire Jim Reynolds called Petitte’s 1st inning 3-1 pitch to #3 batter “Big Papi” Ortiz a ball, though Sterling says it had the plate and was belt high. Hmm, this after Petitte struck out Ellsbury and Pedroia. On review of the video Waldman said it was off the plate by 3″ and sets the boundaries for the strike zone. Next batter Kevin Youkilis — batting in Manny’s former slot — walked, too. Let’s see how tonight goes….
(For the sake of narrative satisfaction I should add that Bay popped out.)
At the very top of the 2nd — with the score at 1-0 courtesy of Damon’s HR off his former-countryman Wakefield — Sterling noted that Petitte’s 2-1 pitch was called a ball in a rather tight zone against Lowrie. (By the way, neither Sterling nor Waldman saw Reynolds call the final strike against A-Rod at the bottom of the 1st.) And now, for the second straight inning, here’s another 2-on, 2-out situation for Pettite, who had shut down the first 2 at-bats in the inning before letting 2 swinging bunts from the bottom of Boston’s line-up get on base and the first – Bailey – score on Ellsbury’s subsequent single. Score: 1-1….
As the Yankees were going ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the 2nd, a quietly enchanting astronaut who had phoned Sterling from the Space Station was that rarest of persopnages, a perfect guest, so engaging, and speaking in thoughts that seemed too natural to be timed to fit between the pitches Sterling had to call, but they did. I dislike having my game interrupted by guests who come on during games, and thankfully Sterling and Waldman welcome few. But this gentleman, who threw out tonight’s first pitch, was a pleasure.
Note: Top of the 4th (3-2 Boston): As Girardi and Petitte confer on the mound, Sterling conjectures that they are discussing Petitte’s strike zone being squeezed by Reynolds. Sure enough, next they invite Reynolds to the mound, where, as Sterling tells it, Girardi is taking care not to get thrown out for arguing balls and strikes, speaking loudly but facing no one in particular. After the confab, Petitte strikes out the batter and speaks to the umpire on his way off the field. Sterling was right on top of this from the 1st.
Note: Top of the 5th (3-2 Boston): Sterling observes that 1st base umpire FIelding Culbreth missed Giambi’s tag-out (of Crisp?), putting-on an extra Boston runner. Subsequently, Bailey wasn’t called for interfering with catcher Molina on the basepath, and Sterling asks if Waldman or Feinsand recalls which umpire called that very out against the Yankees at which park on their recent road trip. Nada. After reviewing a play at 3rd on video between innings, Sterling discovered that A-Rod’s tag beat another runner’s [Lowrie’s?] slide.
So, what would the score be at the end the 5th if accurate calls were being made? Not 6-2 Yanks, even discounting any squeezing of Petitte’s strike zone by Reynolds.
Top of the 6th (6-3 Boston): Here we go again. Molina thought Bruney’s last pitch to Pedroia was a strike, and Girardi comes out to talk to Reynolds again. No reversal. Waldman, mentioning a talk she’d once had with Mussina, speculates that the concern is that Reynolds is not being consistent on his calls on the same pitch. (Mussina had told Waldman that pitchers can get used to a unique strike zone as long as the umpire is consistent.) Bruney walks 3 men in a row. (7-3 Boston)
6 walks by Yankee pitching in 6 innings.
The calling of Yankee pitches is very much an issue in this game, as are at least 2 safe calls, made at 1st and 3rd.
Let me get this straight:
- The Yankees just traded reliever Scott Proctor for part-time Dodger infielder Wilson Betemit
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox just obtained Eric Gagne (2.16, 17 of 18 saves) from the Rangers, despite having a killer closer in John Papelbon (2.15, 23 of 25 saves).
Am I missing something?
- CONSENSUS There was one, right? Yankees need bullpen pitching BADLY. NOT batters.
- A BAT FOR THE BENCH? Let’s look at our oft-maligned bench.
- Anchored by the mending Johnny Damon (.247), replaced in center by Melky Cabrera, who has improved to .291 from April’s .200, hitting .373 in July as an every day player
- Enriched, we hope, by the upcoming return of refurbished slugger Jason Giambi
- Ignited by Make-It-Happen Miguel Cairo ("the best .239 player in baseball," John Sterling reminds us.), a defensive star and utility player who has hit .255 overall but much higher during periods of everyday play covering first base while the injured Giambi’s replacement Doug Mankiewitcz was on the DL, and until farmhand Andy Phillips was appointed permanent substitute. If that sounds like teaching in NYC, where teachers who have more than paid their dues after a decade or two in the system are being forced into substitution while youngsters take over the classrooms, you’re right.
- No offense to Betemit (.231), but, … well, do we need him more than we need Proctor? And isn’t the point that we needed to ADD to our bullpen?
- BULLPEN – Yankees just traded their righty reliever Scott Proctor (3.81 ERA) Why?
- True, he hit a wall in June when he averaged 5.17 runs. But his July ERA is 2.84!
- He has pitched in 52 games. Last year he entered 89 and ended the season at 3.52.
- Consensus is that manager Joe Torre overused him last year. Umm. Would you say he was ON PACE to burnout again this year? Remember the uniform-burning ritual?
- Why are so many Torre Dynasty relievers in the running for most innings pitched?
- Does Torre have a pattern of overusing a reliever as his trusted go-to guy? Hmm.
- Lefty Ron Villone was so wiped out last year that his arm was dead by postseason. To recognize his contributions, the Yanks started him in the minors this season. Today his ERA is 3.12 after 23 games. He ended last year with a 5.04 ERA after 80 games. Looks like Torre might have learned something here.
- Is Mike Myers the new trusted lefty? Uh-oh. 2.61 after 50 innings. Already!
- Wherever and however he pitches, the one comment you can count on hearing about Mike Stanton is that he’s on the list of the hardest-working lefty relievers in baseball. He pitched in over 70 games for over half of 6 years with the Yankees (over 60 for the other 3). As a Met, he reached his pinnacle of 83 games in 2004, and still managed to keep his ERA at 3.16. Did Torre start him on this path? At this point, I get the feeling that he he keeps going in order to see how many innings his career can survive.
- Remember righty Paul Quantrill in 2004? Get ready: 86 games, 95.1 innings. Remember him burning out his arm?
- You get the idea. And don’t forget the great relievers they let go. Remember the Stanton – Mendoza combo? I’m still smarting from that one.
So, Mr. Cashman- Would you mind ADDING to our bullpen rather than taking away from it? Between you and Mr. Torre, we’re losing our relievers faster than we can win our games.
It makes perfect sense. Peace in the Middle East may be within sight. A US Ambassador to Israel retires to become Israel’s Baseball Commissioner! First task : Raise funds for a Palestinian Baseball League. Be fruitful and multiply, right? That’s what I would do. Diplomacy, manners, the significance of small symbolic gestures — these constitute the language of the game.
However, I’d feel more confident about the survival of Israeli baseball – and any peace our great sport can broker – if Dan Kurtzner hadn’t been Ambassador during the second Bush administration. Not exactly the peace that passeth understanding. Then again, maybe he kept it from getting much, much worse.
World Series? Feh. How about the 7-Day War? And it will be played every year, so there’s no "winner." There’s some revisionist history for you. Hey, that’s even better than Yankees vs. Red Sox. (Hmm, Varitek vs. A-Rod, Pedro vs. Zimmer. That’s hard to beat.)
I shouldn’t make light of 2 unwanted peoples’ fight for safe borders. Seriously, if any sport can bring people together in a temporary symbolic oasis in the desert, it is baseball. Maybe Mr. Kurtzner can make this more than a field of dreams.
Here a couple tips for you, Commish: National League rules – we can’t have pitchers throwing at batters’ heads with impunity. (Look how many brawls Pedro and Clemens avoided with the Mets and Astros.) And NO MLB UMPIRES!
You are pitching with a 9-3 lead in the bottom of the 9th. You just got 2 outs in a row. You are 2-2. If you get this out, your team wins.
- DO YOU HIT THE BATTER? I DON’T THINK SO!
- Pitchers weren’t warned despite 4 previous hit batsmen (3 hit by Red Sox, of course) and yet Yankee Scott Proctor — who has every reason to avoid another suspension — is thrown out of the game? Was he more likely to be guilty because he has a "record"? Even Joe Torre, who took an unusual position earlier in the game and got himself thrown out on behalf of a bad call against Bobby Abreu, would not back up Scott Proctor, who swears he didn’t mean to hit Youkilis. I believe him, and Joe’s job is to believe what his players say, at least publically. Instead his position is that he understands why Proctor was thrown out, because the ball could so easily have hit the head of Youkilis. In my opinion, that is all the more reason to believe Proctor, who would not want to take a risk like that. He’s no Roger Clemens, who didn’t get punished for those Mike Piazza incidents, by the way. And remember Pedro as a Red Sock? No umpire dared throw him out, despite his history, which always went unpunished. Clearly his hit batters were purposeful — he stopped hitting batters when he switched leagues and started batting, for the Mets. By the way, John Sterling and Susan Waldman were critical of Proctor, too. I am disappointed, especially because earlier in the game, they sounded as if they were finally speaking out straightforwardly about the bad calls that the Yankees have been receiving these last weeks. Susan even said she was going to start keeping a list. Yet, they made no comment on how Youkilis – screaming – came at the mound.
- Youkilis — the hit batter — came at Proctor screaming. I think that’s why the benches cleared for a brawl. WHY DOESN’T YOUKILIS GET THROWN OUT?
- OK, it turns out Youkilis was scared. Weee Weee Weee. (Kudos to Posada for calming him down.) Regardless, a big guy is charging the Yankees’ pitcher Proctor, who — several pitches into the at-bat, at 2-outs in the 8th with a score of 9-3– hits him up and inside. It just doesn’t sound like an intentional hit.
- Shame on the umpire, Torre, and Sterling/Waldman for not backing Proctor, or at least supporting the possibility that he did not hit Youkilis on purpose, especially after he went straight to Torre’s office to say so.